September 05, 2012 2:57 PM
UNITES STATES - The bidding war for top laterals should heat up with three out-of-state law firms pushing to open Miami offices.
Fox Rothschild, a 500-attorney national law firm that already has a West Palm Beach office; Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, an international law firm with 650 attorneys; and SNR Denton, a 1,250-lawyer international firm, are all reportedly looking to hire lawyers to launch Miami outposts.
SNR Denton has one counsel in a Miami office primarily used by visiting attorneys. "I'm the beachhead for them here," said Timothy Ashby, who focuses on complex business transactions.
Mark Silow, firmwide managing partner for Fox Rothschild, said his firm has been trying to open a Miami office for two to three years but has yet to find the right lawyers.
"We're still in the meet-and-greet phase," he said. "We're anxious to get something going, but we're moving with deliberate speed."
The firm feels it needs to be in Miami to "make its mark on South Florida" and wants to capitalize on the expansive Latin American market, Silow said. Fox Rothschild is also looking at opening in Tampa and Orlando, he said.
"We think we have a business model that has translated well in other metropolitan markets, and we think Miami has the attributes of other markets we've been successful in penetrating," he said. "It's been on our list for a while."
It hasn't been easy to find laterals willing to jump to an out-of-town law firm "that is not that well-known nationally or in the Miami market," Silow added.
"In this market people are very leery of jumping," he said. "To get quality people to leave secure positions is a difficult thing. We're patient."
Julie Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Locke Lord, said it was "way premature" to discuss her firm's opening a Miami office.
"We're an international law firm, and we look at opportunities constantly," she said. "Just because you look at opportunities wherever doesn't mean you will be there."
When asked whether the firm had leased space in Miami, she replied, "Definitely not."
A spokesman for SNR Denton said in an email, "We never comment on rumors about specific discussions or our continuing efforts to enhance SNR Denton's already robust global presence with locations in over 40 countries."
Kara MacCullough, a Greenberg Traurig shareholder, said she has been recruited by out-of-town law firms regularly.
"I used to get calls from other law firms and headhunters on a daily basis," said MacCullough, a Fort Lauderdale corporate and securities lawyer. "It was quiet for a while, and now that the market has picked up I've probably gotten four or five calls in the last year" from out-of-town firms.
Pedro Martinez-Fraga, the Miami hiring partner at DLA Piper, also finds himself peppered with calls from out-of-state law firms. When he tells them he is happy since joining DLA Piper last year, they pick his brain about the logistics of opening a Miami office.
"A number of very interesting law firms want to come to Miami because they view it as a natural gateway," he said. "I tell them Miami is a great market because Latin America is going through an unprecedented boom. A number of firms are studying the area closely."
Common questions are market billing rates and synergies with China, which has become a major investor in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Latin America.
Of course, not every law firm is successful in its quest to open and maintain a Miami office. Some have come and ultimately failed, like Zuckerman Spaeder, which closed its Miami office in 2008 after three decades.
International powerhouse firm Jones Day tried to open a Miami office several years ago, even leasing space, but withdrew after the lawyers it recruited wound up staying with their firm.
Debbie Montero, division director of Robert Half Legal in Miami, a legal recruiter, gets feelers from law firms interested in opening.
"But Miami has a track record of being a difficult place to open an office. It has a high attrition rate, and some firms have been hesitant," she said.